From Annapolis to Augusta: The Navy veteran making his Masters debut
The 81st Masters Tournament tees off this week with 94 of the world’s best golfers vying for a place in history. Sixteen of them are competing at Augusta National Golf Club for the first time. One of those 16 is the only military veteran on the PGA Tour.
Who is this mystery man chasing Masters magic? He’ll be easy to spot. Keep your eyes open for a Navy-themed golf bag. Or the guy wearing red on Friday. If you need another clue, look for the shirt with a Leidos logo.
The man in the shirt is Billy Hurley III, the newest pro athlete on the Leidos roster. Hurley is a 34-year-old Leesburg, Va.-native with more than $4 million in career earnings. Now in his fifth year on the PGA Tour, he knows what it takes to stay competitive during a grueling season.
"It’s gotten easier in some respects, but the game can be just as difficult," said Hurley. "I have a better idea of what I need to do to play well and practice well, and also how to play tournaments when I don’t have my best game."
"Playing courses year after year is definitely an advantage over guys who maybe haven’t played as many times."
Hurley doesn’t have that luxury at the Masters, so he made two trips to Augusta National in March to get a feel for the course. He’s also asked his peers for advice.
"I’ve heard Thursday is the hardest day. One guy told me not to be concerned if I’m a couple strokes over because they tend to set up the course more difficult the first day," said Hurley.
"You don’t know exactly what to expect, but at the end of the day, it’s between me and a little white ball."
That mindset should help calm any butterflies when he walks onto the greens at Augusta National for the first time as a professional. Hurley’s time in the Navy won’t hurt either. His Naval officer career included assignments such as Pearl Harbor, the Red Sea, and the South China Sea.
From 2007 to 2009, Hurley served a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), a 10,000-ton guided-missile destroyer. The bag he’ll carry at the Masters honors the Navy and all who have served.
"It’s designed to look like a Navy ship. It’s all gray and has the 93 hull number on it. I think it’s going to look pretty good," said Hurley.
The bag isn’t his only nod to the military and his fellow veterans. Starting this season, Hurley wears red shirts on Fridays during all Tour events as part of the R.E.D. Friday campaign. R.E.D. stands for "Remember Everyone Deployed."
"It’s just a subtle way to support our military and all of our troops that are overseas right now," said Hurley.
Using the hashtag #REDFriday, he posts a new photo and supportive message from his official Twitter account during the second round of each tournament. An active tweeter, Hurley interacts with fans and provides glimpses into both his personal life and that of a pro golfer. He also shares videos that highlight his golf-specific workout routine.
"Golf is a tricky sport to train for because you have to combine strength, flexibility, and stability," said Hurley. "As golfers, we’re not looking good at the beach or in the pool. We’re working the muscles under the muscles. The stabilizers, the accelerators and decelerators, those types of muscles."
Brainpower, however, is something Hurley has always flexed.
"School came pretty naturally to me but I still worked very hard to get great grades," said Hurley.
His hard work helped him graduate from the Naval Academy with a bachelor’s degree in quantitative economics. After graduation, Hurley served as a combat electronic division officer on the USS Gettysburg, a guided-missile cruiser based in Mayport, Fla. The Naval Academy then asked him to teach economics and Hurley obliged, spending two years as an instructor in Annapolis.
"I got into economics probably by default, in the sense that I was really good at math but I didn’t want to major in just mathematics," said Hurley. "So I did quantitative economics, which was kind of a blend of math and econ. Instead of just economic theory, it was economic theory with real, tangible numbers. It was a good mix for me."
As a numbers guy, Hurley knows the odds are against him in Augusta this go-around. Excluding the inaugural Masters in 1934, only two first-time players have won the tournament. If he can channel the way he played at last year’s Quicken Loans National — the site of his first PGA Tour victory and the reason he’s in Augusta — he could surprise the field.
"The Quicken changed my career. It changed the opportunities that I have. It changed the trajectory of the tournaments that I play in," said Hurley. "Winning an event like that is a huge milestone in a pro golfer’s career."
The gravity of playing in his first Masters — his newest professional milestone — isn’t lost on Hurley.
"It’s pretty elite,” he said. “Leading up to this point is what you work toward your entire golfing life."